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British Columbia Beached Bird Survey

The purpose of the BC Beached Bird Survey (BCBBS) is to collect baseline information on the causes and rates of seabird mortality. This program relies on volunteers who conduct monthly beach walks, looking for seabird carcasses that have washed up onshore.  Volunteer beached bird surveys, coordinated by Alan Burger out of the University of Victoria from 1986 to 1997, provided the first baseline data for the BC coast.  After a five year hiatus, the BC Beached Bird program was re-initiated by Bird Studies Canada in late 2002.

There are many causes of seabird mortality such as oil spills, habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear (bycatch), predation and climate change.  Seabirds are good indicators of marine ecosystem health and can serve as an early detection system for changes in ocean conditions, and events such as oil spills.  Oil pollution poses a great threat to pelagic seabirds and coastal waterbirds because just a small amount of oil can degrade the insulating and waterproofing properties of feathers. The BCBBS information collected by volunteers is used to determine what species of seabirds are most affected by oiling, what time of year the problem is most severe, and whether the proportion of oiled birds washing up on beaches is changing over time.  The information is also used to identify which species are vulnerable to other events, such as low food supply or bycatch, and to understand local patterns in seabird mortality.

One of the current goals is to expand the BCBBS coverage to a larger area of the BC Coast, including remote northern areas where shipping traffic may increase over time and where important seabird colonies are located.

Other beached bird surveys are also occurring in North America. Bird Studies Canada coordinates surveys in Atlantic Canada through the Cape Breton Beached Bird Survey, and the COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) program co-ordinates surveys in Washington State, Oregon, California and Alaska. 

How Do I Join the Survey?

If there is a beach in your neighbourhood that you already like to walk, you are halfway there. To see a copy of the complete Survey Instructions, click the link on the left and review the detailed information about how the surveys are done. If you would like to become involved, follow these steps to join the BC Beached Bird Survey team:

  1. Identify a beach you like to walk or beachcomb
  2. Contact the BC Beached Bird Survey Co-ordinator to discuss your beach and request a survey kit
  3. Survey your stretch of beach once per month, during the last week of the month if possible
  4. Send in your data!

You will also be asked to note physical characteristics of the beach (wrack thickness, amount of driftwood), along with weather conditions. The time it takes to survey a beach section depends on the length of beach you wish to survey.

If you decide to participate in the survey, you will receive a survey kit consisting of:

  • instructions and datasheets
  • tags to identify beached birds you have found
  • gloves to avoid contamination while touching dead birds
  • specialized Fieldguide published by COASST to aid in identification
  • plastic ruler to measure features on the bird to aid in identification

To join the BC Beached Bird Survey and receive your copy of the BCBBS protocol manual  and the necessary recording forms, please contact:


BC Projects Coordinator 
Bird Studies Canada 5421 Robertson Road, RR 1 
Delta, BC V4K 3N2 
Toll-free: 1-877-349-2473 

Further Reading:

British Columbia Beached Bird Survey: Understanding Seabird Mortality BirdWatch Canada. Summer 2009, Number 48

British Columbia Beached Bird Survey: Assessing Fisheries Bycatch Impacts and Plastic Ingestion in Marine Birds. BirdWatch Canada. Spring 2011, Number 55


HAMEL, N.J., BURGER, A.E., CHARLETON, K., DAVIDSON, P., LEE, S., BERTRAM, D.F. & PARRISH, J.K. 2009. Bycatch and beached birds: assessing mortality impacts in coastal net fisheries using marine bird strandings. Marine Ornithology Vol 37:41-60.

O'HARA, P.D., DAVIDSON, P. & BURGER, A.E. 2009. Aerial surveillance and oil spill impacts based on beached bird survey data collected in southern British Columbia. Marine Ornithology Vol 37: 61-65.

Avery-Gomm, S., O?Hara, P.D., Kleine, L., Bowes, V., Wilson, L.K., Barry, K.L. 2012. Northern fulmars as biological monitors of trends of plastic pollution in the eastern North Pacific . Marine Pollution Bulletin. Vol 64: 1776- 1781.

By participating in beached bird surveys, you are making a significant contribution to environmental stewardship. It is important that monitoring our environment involves the general public, and by volunteering in a science-based monitoring program you are helping to maintain and improve the quality of our marine ecosystems.

Thank you!




This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada.
Ce projet a été réalisé avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada.

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